Abby Tinsley - Microfinance in Tanzania
I am a junior at a college in Knoxville, Tennessee. My interest with Tanzania began during my freshman year when a professor enlightened me that regular people, like me, could climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the peak of Africa. I decided to do some research on different opportunities in the country. By doing this, a world of opportunities in the country opened up to me. Projects Abroad came up repeatedly with fantastic reviews. I am a business major so the opportunity to work with the Micro-finance project really stuck out to me. I ultimately decided to go to Tanzania for a month during the summer of 2016 and it was an absolute privilege.
My Micro-finance placement
The project is extremely hands on, which was very rewarding. During my time, there were only two volunteers, which was great because we had lots to keep us busy. We always met in the morning at the Projects Abroad office and prepared our material for the day. Then we would head out to meetings in rural villages for the remainder of the workday. The Micro-finance project gives loans to eight different groups of women. During the meetings, the job of the volunteers is to collect the loan repayments, record them on paper and on the computer and then do business training. The training can range from basic maths and English to bookkeeping, marketing or communications. This is the most fun part because it allows the volunteer to be creative. The women are incredibly receptive and really listen and learn well to whatever the training is. It motivated me as a volunteer to bring my best every single day. We also took on some individual projects with women whose businesses were really growing. We helped them make budgets and for one of them we actually took her to the bank to possibly receive a larger loan. Many of those women gave me, as a young student, some motivational and wise insight into being a businesswoman and life in general.
My host family
My host family experience was enriching, exciting and a blast. I was walking distance from the Projects Abroad office. We stayed in a rural neighborhood, which was great to get a real sense of the Tanzanian culture. My house was gated and very well cared for. The father was a safari driver and my host mother worked in the hospitality business. They both spoke English very well and their daughter spoke English too. We were provided with three meals a day, although I usually ate lunch out of the house. My host family was very accommodating and as long as you are respectful and have open lines of communication, no problems will arise. My time in Tanzania included some exciting experiences but I can honestly say that meals and nights in with my host family were some of my absolute favorite.
Two weeks after my placement I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and went on a safari. Both were pricey yet completely worthwhile investments (although I cried all the way up Kilimanjaro). During my placement we had the weekends to do what we liked. We would adventure around the city to the tourist markets as well as some of the Tanzanian markets. The city is always bustling and will never leave you short of entertainment, even if it is just walking around. We also went on some longer trips and visited a magnificent hot spring and many waterfalls. As always, be cautious with what you say yes too, but get out there and experience all that you can!
You can do all the research in the world for travel but you will never really know what it is like until you experience it. The initial arrival in Tanzania was a bit of a culture shock but not for one second did I feel alone. I had Projects Abroad staff with me along the way. I am sure they would have been there with me through my entire stay if I had wanted them to be. The experience opened my eyes in many ways. As a student I gained many connections who are currently helping me in my career in the United States. I also met some adults who gave me insight into professions working internationally. Most importantly, as cheesy as it sounds, I made friends and memories that will last a lifetime. I am sure anyone who has gone can relate to that.